News in Brief: Same Melody, Different Words

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This is really a variation on the theme of yesterday’s post.

For some months now the House of Lords in the UK has been debating legislation that revamps British law about assisted reproductive technology (ART). (Indeed, it was in the course of this debate that the “twins-got-married” story surfaced.) There are a number of different provisions, but a lot of the coverage has focused on the parentage status of lesbian and gay couples using ART.

The bill, as it stands now, would automatically recognize the civil partner of a woman who gave birth via donated sperm as a parent. This is entirely consistent with the presumption that the husband of a woman who gives birth is a parent. But it is still a striking move. There’s a slightly different provision for parentage for gay men who are using surrogacy, but it too allows both to be declared parents of the child.

These particular provisions have generated quite a lot of opposition. That’s where the “twins who marry” stuff came from. And the particular point of contention seems to be the lack of a father in lesbian mother families. (There’s no mention in the coverage I’ve read of a corresponding concern about motherless children in gay male families.) So again, it comes down to gender. Two parents are not enough if they are not of specified genders. An amendment to include language affirming the “need for a father” was ultimately rejected in the House of Lords, 164-93.

Interestingly, this debate transpires in the UK, where anonymous sperm donation is no longer permitted. A law enacted in 2005 provides that children born through use of donor sperm must be able to identify the donors of genetic material when they turn 18. Critically, however, although the donors may not be eternally anonymous, it is explicitly stated in the statue that they will have no financial or legal obligations with respect to the child. In other words, the identified donors are not parents. It is crucial to consider these two principles together–donor identification with clear law on lack of parental status.

One final note–one of the articles I linked to earlier (the one from the Pink News) contains a long excerpt from a floor speech delivered by Lord Carlile. He spoke in support of lesbian parents (including his own daughter.) It’s a lovely speech and worth a read.

Julie Shapiro (cross posted in Related Topics)

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